Signs of Hard Times

When you own a very small business in a town whose heyday was a couple of generations ago, you do the best you can with whatever you have to offer.

Like the restaurant in a tiny Nebraska town, doing its best in an old building too big for its business. The place may not have had endless varieties of coffee like Starbucks, but they did have the essential 21st-century amenity, high-speed Internet access.

Maybe. Because the sign written on the front window didn’t actually say, “FREE WIFI.” It said “FREE WIFE.”

My partner wondered—out loud, which wasn’t especially tactful of him—whether you got to pick any wife you wanted or had to take whichever one was offered. Or, perhaps, if you could leave one for free.

Then we began to consider the other possible ways to interpret the sign. Maybe it wasn’t an offer at all. Maybe it was a call to action, like “Free Willy” or “Free the Chicago Seven.” Maybe the owner’s beloved spouse was in the hoosegow and he was recruiting help to stage a jail break.

Or maybe the sign was meant as a celebration. Maybe the newly-divorced owner had finally thrown the bum out and was announcing her liberated status. Although, technically, then the sign should have read, “FREE EX-WIFE.”

Sadly, since we had to finish our hash browns and get back on the road, we will probably never know the truth.

The next day, we noticed another struggling business in a tiny shop on a New Mexico street where half the storefronts were empty. Painted on the glass was a larger-than-life skull enhanced with menacing designs. It would have looked right at home on the kind of biker you don’t want to meet in a dark alley, on either his leather jacket or his hairy chest. Two similarly painted plastic skulls grinned in support from the window ledge. Next to them was an electronic sign announcing “Rocky’s Custom Tattoos.”

Above this, taped to the inside of the glass, a little white hand-lettered note added, “Mary Kay Sold Here.”

I should have gone in. After all, I’ve been meaning to find a Mary Kay distributor and get some eye makeup. It just hadn’t occurred to me to look for this kind of place. It did make a certain amount of sense, though. If Mary Kay didn’t have the exact shade of eye shadow I wanted, I could have just had Rocky apply the permanent version.

Being a small business owner in a struggling town can’t be easy. In spite of snarky comments from traveling writers, may they all live long and prosper.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Signs of Hard Times

  1. Frank

    A new page came up that I was not familiar with. Nothing unusual about new stuff showing up all the time in this cyber world we live in now. About the only thing that springs to mind is fading of all the little towns that sprang up durning the early days of homesteading. Dixon was quite a nice little town with three grocery stores, a butcher shop, a bank , a cream and egg buying station, a black smith shop, a barber shop, a town hall where Ginny watched her first movie, a school that taught ten grades, three churchs, a hotel , a jewelry store, the post office that also sold lots of drugs. three private homes, an ice house,. Now there is a retired farmer and his wife livng there and that’s it. There are a lot of similar towns in this situation. Kinda sad.

  2. Kathleen

    I agree that it’s sad to see little towns struggling or even dying–guess that’s one more reason why it’s important for people to tell stories and memories about them the way you just did.

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